Papa Isn't Here Physically, But He Left Us With A Story That We Turned Into A Song

Taarini Sharma Taarini Sharma in Life In The Times Of Corona on 1 July, 2020

These are the words that my father often said to me, “Beta, stay studious, stay curious.” To which I would say jokingly, “Dad, but you know, curiosity killed the cat.” That was the kind of banter my father and I used to have. He was a man who was full of wit, had a flair for language, a curious mind, and a heart made of gold.

When I look back at my childhood, I think of everything he gave me. Amongst them, what I treasure most was our shared love for M&M’s. But these aren’t the usual candies you could buy off the shelves. They were the gems that could never be bought. And that’s what I had inherited from my father, the shared love for Music & Medicine, our very own custom-made M&M’s. They were sweeter than anything I have ever had!

My musical journey started a long time ago. I was a 3rd grader and dad had taken us all out for a late-night drive. I was singing along to a song that was playing on the radio, and my father stopped the car, looked back at me, and like Archimedes, he had his ‘eureka’ moment. He had discovered my voice and like any proud father, urged me to sing more, if not to mine, at least to his heart’s content. That was the beginning of my relationship with music, a love that many know is from the soul. And I started vocal training. In 5th grade, he and I visited Planet M one sunny afternoon.

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Back then, for anyone who loved music, Planet M was the go-to place. You could put on headphones there and listen to your favourite songs before buying the cassettes. We didn’t have the luxury of listening to online music back then, you know, like YouTube, Soundcloud, Spotify, et al. And he bought me my first cassettes, of ABBA, The Carpenters and The Beatles. Oh! What joy! I listened to them again and again, when side A of the cassette was over, I’d switch to side B, and then listen to some more.

My father had given me the biggest gift ever. It was music! And as he saw me listen to songs that he loved so much, he had a glint, a sparkle in his eyes that I can never forget. I think that was perhaps the biggest gift I gave him. His own kid and he had started going on drives, listening to his favourite songs! He was a happy man! Most fauji kids, like myself, would relate to this – Army dads’ love Music, love to have a mehfil with a drink in their hand, share stories from their various postings and their teachings of ‘no man, left behind’. Little did I know back then, that this was something rare, something special, that not many get to witness in their lifetime.

Fast-forwarding to the present, my father, Col. Dr R.K. Sharma, (a Radiologist par excellence) had introduced me to Dr Gurpreet Gulati in January this year. He wanted me to get back on the (musical) horse. In the pursuit of becoming a doctor, I had taken ‘stay studious’ way too seriously! I think he realised it was time for me to tap into the ‘be curious’ part. And for him and I to relive those days from my childhood. If you come to think of it, I think from our childhood, he used to take the train to ‘The Republic of Nostalgia’!

I didn't know how my life would change after dad introduced me to Dr Gurpreet. He's now known as 'Joerocks'. He recently turned into a full-time musician. He's an Aquarius. He was born curious! He used to be a cardiovascular radiologist at AIIMS. Seven years ago, he found music- his inner calling. He comes from a beautiful family and had a great job. But his love for music steered him in another direction. 

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You see, medical students are not always padhakus. Even with the pressure of college, residency and eventually, a job, he nurtured the singer and guitarist in him. And he stayed that way until the age of 41. He once said that he found his way back to music, sitting by the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco. He started writing a song, and just didn't stop.

When he came back to India, there was no stopping him. He changed the strings on his old guitar and started working on his music, and soon ended up making his own little studio at home. So this is what he said to me when we met:

"In April of 2013, I secretly made a decision to myself- I would eventually leave my job and pursue music completely. I didn’t have a deadline in mind, but the end-point was clear. During the 6 years before I retired, I collaborated with other musicians, founded several bands (including the current “The Joerocks Collective”), and set up a YouTube channel. All this while, I was honing my skills in guitars, vocals, music composition and production on my own, as I didn’t have the luxury to enrol for classes due to my schedule. I even used to practise vocals while driving to and from work!

And, it wasn’t easy. My family obviously had apprehensions about my future. They were even more concerned when I finally retired last year (as Professor, and having worked for 20 years!). And I do thank them for this, since this kept me grounded. It made me plan well financially, so that I could pursue my dreams unhindered."

I can't tell you how satisfying it was. This gentleman has performed live in and around the city, and has had his music featured on TV and Radio (the last release, “Kahe Ghabraye”, went viral on social media and was included in “Mann Ki Baat”). He experiences joy from giving back through music and not just medicine. Besides being a mentor to budding musicians of all ages from all walks of life, he co-founded AIIMS Kala Sangam, the cultural epicentre at his institute.

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My father, Col. Dr R. K. Sharma, Dr Gurpreet and I were super excited for our collaboration and wanted to create something different, something from our hearts, from our soul. But in March, we lost my dad. Just as the pandemic was spreading, my life changed irreversibly. For others, it may have seemed like entering a dark tunnel due to the virus, but for me, it seems my heart itself is in a lockdown! But then, I feel my father made Dr Gurpreet and I meet, so that the light of music shows me the way out!

Everything had come to a standstill and it was a time for immense introspection and self-reflection, because Covid19 gave us time to do so. Nobody was running that rat race anymore and everyone was confined to their houses, a place we had almost forgotten to consider a home. And with that, the two of us began discussing what this whole pandemic means to mankind, what Mother Nature is trying to tell us time and again, and how more often than not, we tend to ignore her.

But, this time she's screaming out loud and we have to listen... That became the genesis of our song – a story, that’s certainly just ‘Not A Song’ for us. It became a kind of ballad on the existing global circumstances. We felt the song should be an Earth versus human battle, with a positive message centred on mankind’s never-give-up spirit, our innate ability to rise above our differences and to combine our efforts towards Earth’s revival. We chose rap and hip-hop as a medium to deliver the hard-hitting realities, and acoustic rock to convey that we can overcome all odds. There are individual sections that talk about how global leadership has failed us, how we tend to be fooled by stories seen in the media, and how it’s actually a war between the virus and economy.

The song has two transitions which might surprise you at first. But to the discerning listener, it will be apparent that they serve as turning points in this whole saga of nature against man, culminating in a harmonious outro of winning together and making earth liveable, yet again.

This is our salute to the healers! This song is also symbolic of how doctors and other Covid19 warriors are putting their own lives at stake, fighting this invisible enemy. We want everyone to know that India has among the best doctors in the world. And all we need is a little more love, because, for people, doctors can sacrifice even their lives. There is everything noble about medicine. And let's open our hearts to them some more. And this song is a way to highlight the healing abilities of a different kind. Through the universal language, language of love – music!

So, it was finally time to release our labour of love into the world. We serendipitously released the song on Father’s Day and World Music Day, so it was a happy coincidence! We wondered if such coincidences happen when you create something with so much heart! The innocent hearts said, yes! It's been well appreciated and shared widely on social media and other forums.

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Papa may not be here physically, but he left the whole world for us. I'm just passing it forward.